September 18, 2014

Elyria
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Camaco workers ask Lorain County Commissioners to support union effort

Correction: Matthew Fox said he earned $10.66 per hour at Camaco. He said the starting salary was $10 per hour.

LORAIN — Camaco workers attempting to unionize are seeking support from Lorain County commissioners.

The Board of Commissioners at their upcoming Tuesday meeting are expected to discuss a resolution written by Commissioner Tom Williams asking Camaco management to respect workers’ right to unionize if they choose.

Camaco makes seat backs, seat frames and metal stampings at the 160,000-square-foot plant, at 3400 Industrial Park Road, according to the company’s website.

It employs 215 people in Lorain, and its customers include Ford Motor Co., Lear Corp. and the Woodbridge Foam Corp. It employs 1,110 people at its four plants nationally.

Commissioners Ted Kalo and Lori Kokoski said at Wednesday’s meeting that they would prefer a generic resolution that doesn’t name Camaco.

Williams said the symbolic resolution will carry more weight if Camaco is named.

State Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, who is running against the Republican Williams, said he supports workers’ right to unionize. Lundy, who wasn’t at the meeting, accused Williams of political opportunism, which Williams denied.

Camaco company officials didn’t return a call Wednesday.

The company’s facility is in the ward of Councilman Brian Gates, D-2nd Ward.

Gates said he has been approached by United Auto Workers members about Camaco and is considering proposing a resolution in support of the workers’ right to unionize.

Council in February approved the sale of 3.46 acres of land west of the plant.

The $103,800 sale will allow for a 40,000-square-foot expansion, which Mayor Chase Ritenauer said could create at least 100 jobs.

Ritenauer wrote in a Wednesday email that Camaco has received tax breaks from Lorain in the past and Council has the right to review them. Ritenauer said regardless of whether workers unionize, he wants to see Camaco “grow and prosper.”

Allegations of union-busting at Camaco are not new. In 2011, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that a Camaco manager was “coercively interrogating” two workers and unjustly fired one of them after they tried to unionize in 2006. The NLRB ordered Camaco to rehire the worker and pay him back pay.

Besides unionizing, Williams’ resolution asks Camaco to pay workers more. The resolution said many workers make $10.50 per hour or less, which Williams said is in the bottom 10 percent for auto parts workers nationally.

“All jobs aren’t created equal,” the resolution said. “Employers that pay a livable wage, maintain a safe workplace and treat workers with respect not only help our communities, but they help themselves create a more stable, committed workforce.”

Williams, who met Wednesday with about a dozen Camaco workers at United Auto Workers Local 2000 in Sheffield, said the resolution was prompted by worker complaints.

Matthew Fox, who said he was hired in 2012, said he was told April 14 by Camaco that he was “indefinitely suspended.” Fox said the discipline came eight days after he passed out fliers outside the company inviting workers to a meeting about unionizing.

Fox said he has never missed a day of work and had no disciplinary problems, but he had been vocal about working conditions and wore a UAW T-shirt and buttons. Fox, who said he earned $10.66 per hour, said that for two weeks during the winter there was no heat, and temperatures in the plant were as low as 18 degrees.

“We were told to work faster and that will keep us warm,” he said.

Fox said temperatures in July were as high as 120 degrees and workers were fainting on a daily basis, with some having to be hospitalized. Fox said when he complained, a supervisor said he was taking the heat too seriously.

“This was the day after two of my people went home vomiting with pale, clammy skin,” Fox said.

Fox said a lack of ventilation at the plant makes it hard to breathe and cracked shipping containers are dangerously stacked. Fox’s allegations were supported by Darrell Eberhardt, who said he was hired in 2013.

He said welders’ fingertips nearly froze in the winter and smoke from welding makes it hard to see. Eberhardt, who said he earns $10 per hour, said unionizing might raise wages.

Eberhardt said he has an associate degree in applied science but can’t find other work. “People who have associates or even bachelor’s degrees are working for peanuts because the jobs just ain’t there,” he said.

Jerome Williams, UAW Local 2000 president, said the local supports the workers. However, they are in for an uphill battle, according to Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner, Cornell University’s Labor Education Research director.

Bronfenbrenner said she studied about 1,500 organizing drives nationally between 1986 and 2005. About 33 percent of the time, workers were fired for organizing. Bronfenbrenner said companies also frequently threaten to close, move or lay off workers.

“They start months before the union campaign ever gets to a petition, so many campaigns never get off the ground,” she said. “All of that is what workers have to go through in the private sector in order to organize.”

Reporter Brad Dicken contributed to this story.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.


  • Sis Delish

    Forget about all this Unionzation stuff… I want to know if this Company is participating in any LGBT, Fireworks Fundraising, or other social issues.

  • GreatRedeemer

    This whole Commissioner structure needs to change. All of these politicians support union rights yet they have to manage union budgets for county and city employees, share in the same generous pension system and do little to drive healthcare costs to the taxpayers down. Employers can offer a certain level of benefits and wages to compete in the market. A union has a completely different agenda and employers will close, go bankrupt or just not do business in Lorain County.

    This political thinking is too centered on the more urban areas of the county. The majority of the county needs a better voice, one that is more reflective of the constituents. Take note of the last election, the transportation levy passed in Lorain and Elyria passed, but failed in each and every city elsewhere. This is the new reality.

    http://www.loraincountyelections.com/2014_primary_election.htm

  • jimbo

    Lets see you make it at $10/hr. Sounds to me this company believes in slave labor. The people in this plant should not have to work in conditions like this. These people need to get OSHA in there to check on these conditions.

  • John Davidson

    Now that we have heard the propaganda put out by the unions I hope to hear Camaco’s side. Tom Williams you should keep out of this one. It could cost you the election. If conditions are that bad at the plant don’t anybody go to work there, the company will get the hint.

    • Van Heflin

      They have a 90% first week turnover rate.

      • Pablo Jones

        Kind of like UPS and they are teamsters.

        • Van Heflin

          Actually ups has one of the lowest turnover rates of any company in the US. Non-union Fed Ex on the other hand has a larger than industry average turnover rate.

          • Pablo Jones

            And your source would be? Or is that only the full time workers? After 90% of the part time workers quit they get to move to full time?

  • SniperFire

    Time for greener pastures, Camaco. Off to South Carolina!

  • golfingirl

    “Ritenauer said regardless of whether workers unionize, he wants to see Camaco “grow and prosper.”

    An oxymoron……costs go up, growth and prosperity go down.

    Or they simply move to a right to work state.

    • Van Heflin

      Ohio is a right to work state.

      • golfingirl

        You are correct. My mistake.

        Thanks for the correction.

      • Deborah

        Ohio is not a right to work state yet. Kasich said “It’s not on my agenda.” He still feels the burn of Ohio voters after the SB5 bill was signed by him and shot down by 62% of Ohio’s voters. He is waiting until after the November election. If he is voted back in it will be at the TOP of his agenda. Right to work is a plus for corporations and a BIG minus for workers.

  • Matthew Fox

    For the sake of clarity, I told the reporter that starting wage was $10.00/hour, not that I was making that amount. That is the starting wage.

  • Curtis Taylor
  • stillsleepyeyes

    Well if these things are true……………..one call to the osha office would take care of these things……………..sounds more like a union money grab………………another monkey in the payroll pocket……………